Rambaut, Daniel Frederick (1865–1937), doctor and Irish international rugby player, was born on 6 August 1865 at 3 Newtown Buildings, Waterford city, to Reverend Edmund Francis Rambaut, a Church of Ireland clergyman at Trinity, Waterford (who later moved to Carysfort church, Blackrock, Co. Dublin), and his wife Madelene (née Marlande). Edmund and Madelene were first cousins. The family had a longstanding connection with the Armagh observatory, through William Hautenville Rambaut and Thomas Romney Robinson (qv), and Daniel’s older brother, Arthur Alcock Rambaut (qv), later became astronomer royal for Ireland. (Pronunciation of the surname varies but usually ending with a regular ‘t’ sound.)
Rambaut attended the Rathmines School in Dublin before transferring to the Royal School in Armagh. He matriculated at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in October 1883, where he excelled in mathematics and went on to study medicine, graduating in first place in 1892. He first came to attention for his rugby prowess while attending the Royal School, where he was described as a hard working forward. In 1887 he represented TCD at athletics and was the Irish champion hurdler at 120 yards. In the same year, his performances whilst playing rugby both for TCD and Monkstown Football Club led to his selection on the Irish team for the 1887 Home Nations championship. That year’s championship saw Ireland record its maiden victory over England since the first international test between the sides (in 1875). Rambaut scored both of the converted goals during the match, held at Lansdowne Road on 5 February, which ended in a winning score line of 2–0. The Freeman’s Journal hailed the result as a landmark, describing one of Rambaut’s goals as ‘probably the finest drop ever made in an international match’ (7 Feb. 1887). He featured in all three of Ireland’s matches during the 1887 championship, though the England win was their sole victory. He received one more cap in 1888; the reason for the abrupt cessation of his international career is unclear, though it is possible that his parents objected to his participation as a distraction to his studies.
After graduating from TCD in 1892, Rambaut focused on the pathology of the nervous system, studying under William Bevan-Lewis (1847–1929) at West Riding Lunatic Asylum, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and under Heinrich Obersteiner (1847–1922) in Vienna. He returned to Dublin in 1893 and was appointed assistant medical officer and pathologist at the Richmond District Asylum, a large asylum complex with many hundreds of residents, then under the stewardship of Dr Conolly Norman (qv). Rambaut was energetic from the outset and was credited with introducing weaving looms and shoemaking as forms of occupational therapy. He invited many sporting events on the site for the entertainment, if not the participation, of the patients. His time at the Richmond also coincided with the outbreak of a disorder resembling beriberi between 1894 and 1898, when 546 patients and staff developed symptoms, with the mortality being of the order of ten per cent. As pathologist, Rambaut’s role was central to the work of investigating the disorder’s origins and included a trip to London to examine two seamen who had disembarked there with symptoms of beriberi (which arises from a deficiency of thiamine in the diet). He appeared as third author in an article on the outbreak, published in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, which cast doubt on Conolly Norman’s diagnosis of beriberi.
After nine years at the Richmond, in 1902 Rambaut was appointed to the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Counties Asylum (later known as Shelton Hospital) in Bicton Heath, Shrewsbury. In 1913 he received the most important appointment of his career when he became the resident medical superintendent at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, then the largest registered hospital for psychiatric disorders in England. Regarded as an innovative, reforming doctor, he advocated for nursing staff to have formal qualifications. The practice of staff sharing wards with patients was discontinued and he recommended pay increases for nurses. He was particularly concerned that newly admitted patients were obliged to share accommodation with those that had long-term illness, and his tenure saw the construction of new patient accommodation with a focus on acute illness and the adaptation of enthusiasms around the treatment of mental illness. By 1935 most of the patients admitted to this new unit (Wantage House) were voluntary and the unit had been adopted as a model nationally and internationally, drawing medical visitors from around the world. St Andrew’s was considered to be at the forefront of the physical treatments then available for psychiatric disorders, with rooms for hydrotherapy and Turkish and vapour baths, as well as electrical, x-ray, ophthalmic and dental treatments.
Rambaut was elected president of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association (later the Royal College of Psychiatrists) in 1934 and his investiture coincided with the hosting of its ninety-third annual conference at St Andrew’s. A muscular and athletic man, he continued to play competitive sport well into middle age and lined out for the hospital’s hockey and cricket teams. He died, still in post as medical superintendent of St Andrew’s, on 30 November 1937 and was buried in Northampton. He is commemorated by the Daniel Rambaut Ward in St Andrew’s Hospital, which is a thirteen-bed secure ward for men aged over forty with acquired, static or progressive neurological conditions. Rambaut’s wife, Esther Graham Ling, died in 1947; there were three children, Christopher, Madelene and Philip. Both sons served in the Royal Air Force during the second world war.